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July is the new January: More companies delay a return to the office.

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ImageAn empty storefront in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan in New York, a couple of months into coronavirus restrictions.
Credit…Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

When the coronavirus pandemic closed offices around the United States in March, many companies told their employees that it would be a short hiatus.

Workers, they said, would be back in cubicles within a matter of weeks. Weeks turned into September. Then September turned into January. And now, with the virus still surging in some parts of the country, a growing number of employers are delaying return-to-office dates once again, to the summer of 2021.

Google was one of the first to announce that July 2021 was its return date. Uber, Slack and Airbnb soon followed. In the past week, Microsoft, Target, Ford Motor and The New York Times said they, too, had postponed the return of in-person work to next summer and acknowledged the inevitable: The pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon.

Many more companies are expected to delay their return-to-office dates to keep workers safe. And workers said they were in no rush to go back, with 73 percent of U.S. employees fearing that being in their workplace could pose a risk to their personal health and safety, according to a study by Wakefield Research commissioned by Envoy, a workplace technology company.

More companies are also saying that they will institute permanent work-from-home policies.

In May, Facebook was one of the first to announce that it would allow many employees to work remotely even after the pandemic. Twitter, Coinbase, Shopify and Microsoft have also said they would do so.

The postponement of return dates is a “psychological blow for those who expected this to be a transition phase,” said Tsedal Neeley, a Harvard Business School professor who studies remote work. “The reality is hitting that, ‘There won’t be a vaccine as I expected very quickly. This is going to be my life, and I’d better learn how to do this.’”

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